Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Lithuanian Halls abroad

Many formidable Lithuanian Hall palaces dot the cities worldwide, from the US Midwest and East Coast to Australia. These are sometimes also called Lithuanian Clubs or Lithuanian Homes. They serve not only as community hubs for local Lithuanians but also as a repository of Lithuanian art, culture, and architecture.

Lithuanian Music Hall of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Lithuanian Music Hall of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (est. 1908)

Lithuanians started to build their Halls like this in foreign countries during the First Wave of Lithuanian emigration (late 19th century). The clubs would be built by local Lithuanians and serve as a space for Lithuanian activities.

Lithuanian Music Hall in Philadelphia (est. 1908)

Lithuanian Music Hall in Philadelphia close-up

The largest cities have formidable Lithuanian club palaces, with opulent halls for musical and theater activities, ballroom dancing, and more. These palaces often have uniquely Lithuanian architectural details, such as Vytis on their facades. They never were simply building used for Lithuanian activities. Rather, they were pieces of Lithuania recreated abroad.

The main hall of Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

The main hall of Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

In the smaller towns, however, Lithuanian club buildings are smaller and sometimes they remind regular buildings, although Lithuanian details are still typically available, at least inside.

Pittston Lithuanian club

Pittston Lithuanian club in Pennsylvania

In nearly all cases Lithuanian Hall buildings are smaller than the Lithuanian church in the same area. Typically, they were also built later, in the district near the church. That is because in the times of World War 1, the Lithuanian nation was divided into three political thoughts: Tautininkai (sometimes translated as „Nationalists“), Christian Democrats (Religious Catholics) and Leftists. Religious Catholics, who were nearly always the largest group, saw the Lithuanian church as their hub. There, they not only celebrated mass or religious events but also had all the secular events. Nearly every Lithuanian church abroad has a secular hall in addition to the main religious hall, and this secular hall essentially doubles as a Lithuanian Hall for the parishioners.

Lithuania-themed artworks inside Melbourne, Australia Lithuanian club

Lithuania-themed artworks inside Melbourne, Australia Lithuanian club

Lithuanian Halls were thus established by the two remaining groups, Leftists and Tautininkai, sometimes separately from each other. Leftists were critical of religion altogether and many of them were atheists, making any activities in the parishes impossible. Tautininkai, on the other hand, typically were Christians – however, they saw ethnicity as more important than faith, moreover, they disliked the internationalizing factor of the Catholic church. All the Lithuanian parishes, after all, were at the will of the non-Lithuanian bishops, who sometimes would reduce or cancel Lithuanian language masses and, later, would even close down the Lithuanian parishes. Lithuanian Halls, on the other hand, were always owned by Lithuanians, ranging from non-profit organizations to for-profit groups of original investors.

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society building

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society building in Grand Rapids, Michigan, associated with Tautininkai

Another wave of new Lithuanian Halls was opened after World War 2, when the Soviet Genocide refugees („DPs“) were forced to leave Lithuania (the Second Wave of emigration). They always saw themselves as exiles rather than emigrants, therefore, to them it was even more important to create their own piece of Lithuania abroad. Sometimes they joined the old Lithuanian organizations, reinvigorating them and remodeling the Lithuanian Halls in an even more ethnic style. Where those halls didn‘t exist or were too small, they built or acquired new ones (e.g. in Australia).

Lithuanian Youth center facade with Vytis and the memorial to those who died for Lithuanian freedom in front

Post-WW2 Lithuanian Youth center of Chicago. The facade with Vytis and the memorial to those who died for Lithuanian freedom in front

As time passed, Lithuanian Halls typically went in two possible directions. Some of them, especially those reinvigorated by the Second Wave, remained centered around Lithuanian activities, hosting Lithuanian language schools, Lithuanian dance troupes, and Lithuanian restaurants (often weekend or Saturday only). These clubs often consist of older Lithuanians and new immigrants. Typically, there is a „meeting day“ there where the club members meet to have time together. This is often either Saturday or Sunday or both.

Lithuanian dancers at the Lithuanian center of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Lithuanian dancers at the Lithuanian center of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Yet other Lithuanian Halls, especially those in the First Wave towns, cherish the Lithuanian roots mainly as club heritage. They are visible in the club name and decor but otherwise, the club activities are „generic“ (e.g. the bar has no Lithuanian beer and the restaurant, if it exists, has no Lithuanian food; Lithuanian independence day might not be celebrated but St. Patrick‘s Day or Halloween activities may take place). Typically, some time in the Cold War era, such clubs started readily accepting non-Lithuanian members. Now, some of these clubs have a non-Lithuanian majority, although they still respect the Lithuanian roots of their club. Often these clubs are also younger than the strictly Lithuanian ones. Many of their members are descendants of Lithuanians or descendants of those who joined the club over time (e.g. because they were friends of Lithuanians). Often such Lithuanian clubs are open every day as they serve as bars and a place for socialization.

Athol Lithuanian club interior

Athol (Massachusetts) Lithuanian club interior, now serving as a bar

There are also many shades in between, e.g. clubs that seem to be quite generic in their activities but still hold some Lithuanian activities as well, such as the Lithuanian independence day.

Lithuanian museum at the Adelaide Lithuanian club

Lithuanian museum at the Adelaide Lithuanian club

Like the Lithuanian churches, the Lithuanian clubs were heavily hit by the white flight in those areas where it did happen ~1960s. The white flight meant that most of the club members moved away from their clubs and, what used to be a place for them to stop by after work, now suddenly became a place to come once a week only after a rather long drive. And even that was not guaranteed, as some of the formerly Lithuanian districts became unsafe and many younger Lithuanians began fearing going there.

This Worcester Lithuanian club is no longer used as such

This Worcester Lithuanian club is no longer used as such. Vytis, however, still remains on the facade.

That said, unlike the churches, the Halls were owned by Lithuanians themselves (there was no non-Lithuanian bishop to close them down). While, in some cases, they chose to sell the Halls and use rented premises for activities (sometimes these were marred by conflicts), a larger percentage of major Lithuanian clubs survive than the percentage of Lithuanian parishes. Often, the clubs established by Tautininkai survive while those established by Leftists do not (as Leftists always saw ethnicity as less important and, Leftism fell in popularity after the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1940, so these clubs were joined by few new members).

Šauliai House of Chicago at Brighton Park

Šauliai House of Chicago at Brighton Park

The recent wave of Lithuanian emigration (post-1990) has been larger than any other wave before it and yet, as of 2022, only a single new Lithuanian Hall was established by this wave. Most of these emigrants do not seek to create Lithuanian public spaces abroad for a variety of reasons (less patriotism, better integration due to knowledge of local language, less distance from Lithuania due to transportation and communication possibilities).

Some of the Third wave Lithuanian migrants (post-1990) joined the historic Lithuanian Halls. However, this wave was mostly directed towards western Europe where almost no Lithuanian Halls existed, whereas the historically strong Lithuanian communities received relatively few new immigrants. As such, the total number of Lithuanian Hall members has declined. In order to survive, the Halls are also often rented for non-Lithuanian activities, such as marriage celebrations.

Lemont Hill of Crosses entrance with the first three words of the Lithuanian National Anthem (Lithuania, our homeland) inscribed

Lemont Hill of Crosses near the Lithuanian World Center at Lemont, Illinois

Article by ©Augustinas Žemaitis.